Crowded House

When you're running out of room, buy furniture that serves more than one purpose.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Subscribe »

Home offices today range from closets to spare bedrooms to entire attics or basements. As a homebased business owner, you may long for the spacious office you left behind in the corporate environment or envy your neighbor's oversized, converted attic. But if your home office space is limited, take heart: Your office has the potential to be used more efficiently than your neighbor's ample digs--that is, provided you make better use of your space. It's not the size of your home office that matters; it's how well you make use of what you have.

Most home offices have more vertical (wall) space than horizontal (floor) space. Instead of trying to squeeze too many pieces of furniture into your home office, try using pieces that serve several functions. Whether you use an armoire, desk/computer workstation or updated rolltop desk, each piece should be functional when open and able to blend in with the rest of your home when closed.

Lisa Kanarek ( is a home office organizing expert and author of several books, including Organizing Your Home Office For Success (Blakely Press) and 101 Home Office Success Secrets (Career Press).

On A Roll

Remember your grandparents' old rolltop desk? Antique rolltops may look nice in a home office, but usually aren't as functional as reproductions modified or designed to accommodate computer equipment. And for extra storage space, add a hutch to your rolltop.

The Double Pedestal Rolltop from Reliable HomeOffice: This modern take on the antique rolltop desk features a hutch, a file drawer, two utility drawers, a drop-front/pullout keyboard drawer, a CPU cabinet and shelves to hold the various books and other materials you need to access quickly. This roomy yet compact rolltop is made of antique-finished solid wood and veneers, and costs $1,100 for the desk and $350 for the hutch. For more information or to order, call Reliable HomeOffice at (800) 869-6000.

The Perfect Match

Instead of making your existing furniture fit your computer equipment, consider a desk designed specifically for computer equipment. The ideal setup has a hutch or a shelf installed above it for storing computer manuals, software and reference materials. The desk portion holds all your computer equipment and can be closed at the end of the day.

Whichever piece or pieces of furniture you choose to use in your home office, make sure they meet ergonomic standards. Before you buy a desk, chair or computer workstation, test it to see that it's functional, comfortable and reduces the risk of straining your back, wrists or elbows. Also, make sure your workstation has access holes for large plugs and that your tower unit has enough ventilation. Look for built-in lights or enough desktop space to add a halogen or fluorescent lamp. If your home office is in a high-traffic area or guest room, look for door, file and drawer locks. Make sure any piece of furniture you buy is large enough to hold your monitor and speakers, if necessary. And keep in mind that a keyboard drawer will save you valuable desk space.

Sawgrass Desk from Computer Furniture Direct: This desk, though simple in design, provides plenty of room to house your monitor, keyboard, CPU, printer and more. It features a locking bi-foldable door and an adjustable shelf below. Adding a hutch would give you more storage space above, leaving your desktop clear. Available finishes include walnut or cherry on oak solids and veneers. The desk costs $899; the hutch costs $599. For details, call Computer Furniture Direct at (800) 555-6126 or visit

Office In A Box

If your choice of office space is limited to your family room, living room or dining room, all three without doors to close at the end of the day, consider an armoire. An armoire can hold your monitor, CPU, printer, fax machine, modem, reference materials and files. Some even offer a fold-out work surface. A pull-out keyboard offers space for your mouse and a few office supplies. You can even set aside the top of the armoire for less frequently used items. While the ability to store your office essentials makes an armoire an attractive option, one of its greatest advantages is, at the end of the day, you can close your armoire (or office) doors and be left with a decorative piece of furniture that won't compromise the look of your home.

The Exterior Home Office Armoire from Crate and Barrel: If you've shied away from a large armoire because you thought it would overwhelm your home office space, think again. Although an armoire may seem overbearing, it could be the only piece of office furniture (aside from a chair) that you need.

The Exterior Home Office Armoire from Crate and Barrel is made of maple solids and veneers, and has a pullout keyboard drawer, work surface, printer stand, a CPU cabinet, a file drawer and two additional drawers for supplies. In addition to a bulletin board, the armoire comes with a CD holder, disk holder, built-in power strip and additional shelves for reference materials. Cost: $2,999. To order, call Crate and Barrel at (800) 323-5461.

The Convertible Corner Computer Armoire from Reliable HomeOffice: Now you can turn an unused corner into a usable, functional workstation. The Convertible Corner Computer Armoire from Reliable HomeOffice has a pullout keyboard tray with a sliding mouse shelf beneath it, a bay for a tower-style CPU, a lower pullout shelf for a printer, and storage space above and below the monitor bay. The armoire costs around $1,200 and comes in a variety of finishes: homestead cherry veneer, pine, oak and antique white. For more information or to order, call Reliable HomeOffice at (800) 869-6000.

Look Above The Surface

Technology can help you save time, but what about space? Use your desktop surfaces as efficiently as you can by using holders created specifically for making the most of your space.

The Kensington QuickTrieve media holder: This compact desktop multimedia storage tower is designed to preserve valuable desktop space and organize various media, like CD-ROMs, diskettes, Zip disks or tape cartridges. QuickTrieve can hold a maximum of 16 CDs, 18 Zip disks or 64 3.5" diskettes and is topped with a cushioned pad that holds your desktop speakers. The QuickTrieve can be positioned three ways--vertically, horizontally or on its back--and you can expand storage capacity as needed. Cost: $9.99. Available at office supply stores nationwide.

Fellowes Multi-Function Printer Workstation: This space-saving organizer/printer stand supports virtually any laser or inkjet printer or multifunctional machine. It has two shallow drawers for storing paper and supplies, and two deep utility drawers to hold office supplies and full reams of paper. Supporting up to 75 pounds, the Fellowes Multi-Function Printer Workstation has two adjustable cable managers. Cost: $32.50. Available at office supply stores nationwide.

Fellowes Mobile Printer Workcenter: Running out of room? Save space in your tiny office by moving your printer to a mobile printer stand. The Mobile Printer Workcenter by Fellowes has four drawers for storing supplies under your printer; an adjustable middle shelf with built-in cable wrap for a second printer, fax machine or other piece of equipment; and a fixed bottom shelf for additional storage. Cost: $99.95. Available at office supply stores nationwide.

A Space Odyssey

If two's company and three's a crowd, what's eight? To Jivesh Sharma, it's a thriving homebased business that specializes in designing customized, state-of-the-art Web sites, intranets and educational products. As the president of Health Integration Technologies (Health IT) in Dallas, and publisher of HealthIT Today magazine, Sharma and his five full-time and two part-time employees rely on technology to maintain and grow the business.

The challenge: Because his office measures only 250 square feet, Sharma needed to create a working environment where he could host staff meetings, client meetings and demonstrations, yet still have room to store and access the extensive technology needed to operate his business. Not only did he have to create a work area for two full-time, in-office employees and himself, he had to make room for three off-site staff members who work in his home office two days a week and in their respective home offices the rest of the time.

The solution: Sharma invested in a desk big enough for two, which he shares with his business manager (they usually work different hours). At a 90-degree angle to his desk is a large, computer workstation with a hutch to store stationery, reference materials and the entire staff's physical mailbox. (Almost all communication is electronic.) Additional reference materials are stored along one wall of built-in bookcases. Another computer workstation across from Sharma's shared desk is for the telecommuting employees to use when they're visiting.

The layout of Sharma's home is conducive to running a homebased business and greeting clients. His living room serves as a waiting room. His nearby kitchen makes it easy to offer clients food and drinks. Health IT staff meetings are held in Sharma's den, where he connects his notebook computer to his TV for PowerPoint presentations and reviewing Web sites.

Health IT's growth, combined with its ability to communicate effectively with staff and clients, proves company size doesn't necessarily correlate with the square footage of your home office.

Contact Sources

Health Integration Technologies, (214) 265-0141

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